Workers Comp Zone


Workerscompzone has been on the road (in Catalunya) for the last 2 weeks, and thus less blogging on California’s workers’ comp scene.

Next year there will probably be a vote on whether Calalans want to secede from Spain. Judging from the amount of red and yellow Catalan independence flags draped from apartments around Barcelona and Girona, there is much support for such a move. How Spain and the EEU would react isn’t clear. Unlike the past violence associated with Basque separatism, the Catalan movement appears peaceful for now.

In California we have our own secessionists. Siskiyou County and Modoc County have indicated interest in seceding.

And of course, in the 1940s, a group of Southern Oregon counties and Northern Californians developed the idea of the state of Jefferson.

If Jefferson happens in our lifetime, perhaps there will be an opportunity to develop a model workers comp system from scratch for the new state.

One thing such a model system would not do is treat professional athletes poorly should there ever be ice hockey in Yreka or pro basketball in Alturas.

Governor Brown has now signed AB 1309, a bill which will limit access to California workers’ comp for many players, including minor league players.

Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times attacked the bill in a piece entitled, “California Gives A Huge Payoff to the NFL” ( see the link below): … 8247.story

The piece by Hiltzik is worthy enough that I’ll share much of it with readers.

Here is Hiltzik’s analysis:
“Here’s the truth. Under California law, you can file a workers’ comp claim if you can argue that you suffered an injury in California, even if your employer is located elsewhere; it’s a rare pro athlete who doesn’t occasionally play an away game against a California team.
More important, California is one of the few states that allow workers’ compensation for “cumulative trauma” injuries, those that build up over time. That would include knee or back damage from years of blocking and tackling, or neurological damage from repeated concussions. Let’s be clear: You don’t get injured only in home games. When the Packers played the 49ers in San Francisco last month, a few Green Bay players got racked up. Under California law, they may have suffered compensable injuries.”

Hiltzik continues:
“So it’s not surprising that athletes would turn to California’s system to obtain redress for injuries they can’t get compensated for any other way. What’s important, however, is that this process doesn’t cost California taxpayers or business owners a penny. A California workers’ comp judgment is paid by the insurer of the worker’s employer — in the case of a player whose home team was the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bengals’ insurer pays.
The pro leagues don’t like this, because they know they face enormous financial exposure from cumulative injuries, especially head injuries; if enough claims are filed, their insurance premium might go up or they may have to cover the bill themselves. So they’ve moved heaven and earth to wipe out opportunities for player compensation.
The NFL probably figured it couldn’t get the California bill passed if it told the truth. So it sacrificed the truth.”

Hiltzik concludes:
“Who benefits from Brown’s poor judgment in signing this bill? Not the taxpayers — they’re not on the hook to begin with. Not the ballplayers — their opportunities to win compensation for injuries they suffered on the field got narrower. If the measure survives a challenge in California courts, workers in many other industries should look out. Truckers from other states who drive into California could be next, or oil field workers, or utility linemen. Once you start handing out bennies to one category of employer, where do the handouts end?
The pro sports league owners will make out like bandits from this bill. They’re millionaires and billionaires. They’ve been playing California like a harp for years. But this bill is by far their greatest score. That the state Legislature and Brown played along is disgusting.”

I must say that I was not really troubled with the WCAB declined to exercise jursidiction in a case where an Arizona Cardinals player sought workers comp after having very minimal contacts with California. But AB 1309 casts a much wider net.

I suspect there is far more to this story about AB 1309 than we now know. It always struck me as odd that a Fresno Assemblyman was carrying this bill which would greatly benefit the NFL and some of the other leagues. It seemed like more than a good government/policy move.

Granted, the bill’s author did take input from the California Federation of Labor, the NFL Players Association and the applicant attorneys, and the bill was improved over what was initially offered.

But the fact of the matter is that a web of big money players with legislative access have had great interest in keeping the Kings in Sacramento and in getting an NFL team in Los Angeles.

Whether direct promises were made by the leagues on some of these issues to politicians and to various political consultants and developers, we’ll likely never know.

But that’s the way things usually work in the real world.

Stay tuned.

Julius Young

Category: Political developments